CONTEXT: Depression in late life has been associated with vascular abnormalities. Several studies have demonstrated that persons with brain infarcts are more likely to have depressive disorders. Furthermore, depression is related to the subsequent development of ischemic heart disease. OBJECTIVE: To investigate the relationship between atherosclerosis at different locations and depression in the general population. DESIGN: Cross-sectional population-based study. SETTING: The Rotterdam Study, a population-based cohort study. PARTICIPANTS: In 4019 men and women 60 years and older, we assessed atherosclerosis at different locations, including common carotid intima-media thickness, plaques in the carotid arteries, the ankle-brachial blood pressure index, and aortic atherosclerosis. An overall measure of extracoronary atherosclerosis was obtained in 3747 persons by computing the principal component of these extracoronary atherosclerosis measures. In a subgroup of 1986 persons, we additionally measured coronary calcifications. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURE: All subjects were screened for depressive symptoms. Screen-positive subjects had a psychiatric interview to diagnose depressive disorder. RESULTS: More severe extracoronary atherosclerosis was associated with a higher prevalence of depressive disorders. For every 1-standard deviation increase, the prevalence increased by 30%. Furthermore, we found a strong relationship of severe coronary and aortic calcifications with depressive disorders (odds ratio, 3.89; 95% confidence interval, 1.55-9.77; and odds ratio, 2.00; 95% confidence interval, 1.02-3.96, respectively). CONCLUSIONS: Atherosclerosis and depression are associated in the elderly. This finding is compatible with the vascular depression hypothesis. However, the cross-sectional nature of the study does not allow causal inferences. In particular, earlier depressive episodes may have contributed to the development of atherosclerosis.

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Archives of General Psychiatry
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

Tiemeier, H., Dijck, W., Hofman, A., Witteman, J., Stijnen, T., & Breteler, M. (2004). Relationship between atherosclerosis and late-life depression: the Rotterdam Study. Archives of General Psychiatry, 61(4), 369–376. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.61.4.369